Jill Gabriel, who was Peter's wife at the time, told Songfacts: "I saw an article in a newspaper about a woman who jumped out of a huge block of flats with her child and killed herself. I gave it to Peter and it was the original inspiration and he was heartbroken to read it. However his lyrics are always multilayered with many different influences."
Peter has also cited a TV show about unemployment and family life, and a photo of a family in the dust bowl depression as influences on the song.
Peter had some kind of nervous breakdown in 1985, and he wrote this song to reward the support he got from his family. This album provides a glimpse of Gabriel's state of mind: it's a mixture of excessive enthusiast songs ("Big Time," "Sledgehammer") and depressive ones ("Don't Give Up," "Mercy Street").
Gabriel said of this song's message: "The basic idea is that handling failure is one of the hardest things we have to learn to do."
This is a duet with Kate Bush. It didn't start as a duet - Gabriel had to change the lyrics so they made sense for a man and woman to sing them.
Two videos were made. One of the promos showed Bush and Gabriel in a loving embrace for the duration of the song. This version was directed by Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, who made many classic videos, including "Every Breath You Take" by The Police. Godley recalled in Q Magazine August 2008: "There wasn't a sexual connotation, just one of mutual support. But the song isn't sentimental or nostalgic, just incredibly moving."
Gabriel's 15-year marriage was in jeopardy at the time (the divorce came in 1988), and he insisted on calling his wife to get permission to embrace Bush. He reflected in an interview with Q: "I thought that five minutes of groping Kate in front of the world was perhaps not the best thing for a dodgy marriage. At the time I felt I needed a blessing. Anyway, Jill was great about it."
The other video, directed by Jim Blashfield, incorporated animation and other computer-generated effects.
Gabriel was using a mix of live and electronic instruments at the time. On this track, he used a Yamaha CS-80, Prophet 5 and Fairlight CMI synthesizer along with a Linn drum machie. Live instruments were:
Tony Levin - bass David Rhodes - guitar Manu Katche - drums, percussion Richard Tee - piano
Paula Cole, fresh out of the Berklee College of Music and yet to release her first album, got a gig singing backup for Gabriel on his Secret World Live tour in 1993, where she sang this with him as part of the show. Two of the Italian shows were compiled into a concert film and album that was released in 1994, the year Cole issued her first album, Harbinger. Her next album, This Fire, earned her seven Grammy nominations, one of which she won: Best New Artist. Gabriel's bass player Tony Levin played on that album.
This was used in the Miami Vice episode "Redemption In Blood" (aired November 11, 1988), in which Sonny Crockett begins to regain his memory after being in an accident while he was undercover as his alter ego Sonny Burnett.
Suggestion credit: Christopher - Burlington, NC
Bush was not Gabriel's first choice as duet partner. Speaking to The Quietus, the one-time Genesis vocalist admitted that he'd originally approached Dolly Parton to contribute vocals for the track, but the country legend turned his offer down. "There's an interesting story about this song," he said. "Because there was a reference of America roots music in it when I first wrote it, it was suggested that Dolly Parton sing on it."
He added that he was "glad" that Bush had ended up taking singing duties for the track.
Gabriel and Parton are apparently destined not to work together. He told Spinner: "What's funny is, we met a couple of times after that, and she ended up asking me to sing it with her on her TV show, but we were never able to make it happen."
Javier from Tegucigalpa, HondurasPoetry belongs to the needed ones. This song helps me understand that musicians really communicate that we all go through tribulations... even the ones in the "high" places. Whatever may come and whatever may go. It helped me cry and clean my soul through my tears... just like Churchill said in an Oxford graduation ceremony: never give up!!! Never Give Up!!!! NEVER GIVE UP. I struggled with crack addiction for 17 years. Thank you Peter.
Ole from Copenhagen, DenmarkEven though this song is about unenployment, I think the song has helped many through tough times with depression Sure did help me back in 1997 Thanks Peter !
Joseph from Austin, TxI read that this song, as well as Peter's "breakdown", was due to a good friend's suicide-a suicide brought on by unemployment and depression. I know the feeling.
Budoshi from Sandnessjøen, NorwayThe Peter Gabriel/Kate Bush-version is my favourite...
Mel from Riverbank, CaLove this song, and do agree with others that the version with Paula Cole is best.. Great song, this one and Mercy Street make 'So' great, one of my favorite albums.
Brad from Long Island, Nyabout Melanie Gabriel, she also sings "Down Side Up" with him, and they strap themselves into a harness and literally walk upside down on catwalk above the stage while singing. Typical theatrics of any Gabriel show which are always excellent
Brad from Long Island, NyPeter's daughter Melanie has also performed this with him in live shows. I'd rate her as average at best. I agree with the notion that Paula Cole's contribution is really good.
Mary from Phoenix, AzThis song was also used in a PSA for runaways...with a number at the end for them to call. I don't know if it was national, or just in Arizona.
Bailey from Orlando, FlA very dear friend gave this song to me over 10 years ago after a serious bout of depression..suicide attempt..It pulled me through; as has done so for the last 10 years. Every time I feel I am at the bottom looking up, with despair and no hope , I play this song and I remember........ I am loved. I can't give up.
Stuart from Kilmarnock, United KingdomI had a friend who used to train P Coy in the Parachute Regiment, and he would play this song to them near the end of their training, just as they were going into the big final make-or-break push.
Norman from Londonderry, IrelandThis song was actualy written about the economic depression and huge unemployment in Britain in the early and mid 80's. The clue is in the lyric "For every job so many men....so many men no one needs"
Stewart from Seattle, WaSteve from Ottawa: Thanks for the analysis. Helps to explain the song's uniqueness. Isn't it 6/8 rather than 6/4 time though (I'm not a professional musician so please excuse me if I am befuddled).
Sofy from Montreal, CanadaThe bridge of the song is simply genius and so pognant... I prefer by a long run the version with Paula Cole it really gives a more melodic vibe to the song (VS the version with Kate Bush which is more robotic) BE-AU-TI-FUL !!!
Ash from Charleston, WvThe bridge section of this song is one of Gabriel's shining moments. He belts out those lines like a seasoned gospel singer.
Katie from Somewhere, NjThe Bono & Alicia Keys version is available exclusively for download off of iTunes in the US and UK music stores. All of the proceeds will be donated to the Keep A Child Alive charity, as this version was done to address the AIDS problem in Africa. The third verse from the original version is omitted.
Bethan from Somerset, Uk.Bono and Alicia Keys recently recorded a new version of this song.
Steve from Ottawa, CanadaThe song is in 6/4 time with the bassline accenting the 1 and 4, with the melody line accenting 1 and 5. It gives it a great tension with everything hanging up in the air on the 4 and then coming down to resolve on the 1. To me that, and the busy melody line punctuating a sparse, airy background, gives the verse it's great feel.. it really creates an air of solitude I think, which is broken in the verse & bridge when the voices come together on the 1&5.. a great integration of the music with the lyrics. At the end it breaks into a groove in 4/4 I guess cause everything's gonna be alright after all.. :)
Jenny from Chicago, Ilthis song has gotten me through many many difficult times in my life.
Andy from Sheffield, EnglandI always thought this was about the American Indians trying to fit into the newly established white Society. And trying to find work. "We were wanted all along, I was taught to fight and taught to win, I never thought I could fail" etc.
AgustÃ?n from Santiago, ChilePeter Gabriel performed "Don't give up" as lead singer in october 1990's Amnesty International's concert "Desde Chile, Un Abrazo a la Esperanza", at the Estadio Nacional in Santiago, Chile, with Sting and Sting's band as support band, in front of 75000 people. They, plus Sinnead O'Connor instead of original Kate Bush. It wasn't a good performance, it seemed Sinnead didn't know the lyrics very well.
Rhett from Melbourne, Australiahas been used on alot of advertisments in australia.
Steve from Seattle, WaThis song, pereformed by Maire Brennan and Michael McDonald, has also appeared on a Word Records Worship-Music collection called Streams. They changed a word or two in the lyrics. And it is unknown to this writer whether permission was ever secured? The Collection was produced by Brent Bourgois and released in 1999.
Tara from Boston, Mathe paula cole version on the secret world (dvd and cd) is really good. their voices are fantastic together.
Pete from Nowra, Australiagreat song ,great video clip
Jim from Smalltown, Althought that this song was about Muhammed Ali/Cassius Clay !! interesting........
Rowan from Tucson, AzOne of the more inspirational songs out there.